Posts Tagged ‘Alton Food Festival’

Alton Food Festival 2012

July 7, 2012
Alton Station

Alton Station

It was touch and go whether I went to Alton.

All night, the early hours of the morning, heavy rain. By morning it was still raining and continued to rain all morning. Parts of the country had experienced more than a month’s supply of rain in less than 24 hours and were now experiencing severe flooding. Though nothing as bad as the severe floods that had hit southern Russia.

I was beginning to understand how Noah must have felt.

Global warming, climate chaos and yet still our corrupt business leaders and the corrupt politicians in their pockets continue to fiddle whilst Rome burns, though in this case whilst England floods.

Was it worth going to the Alton Food Festival? The last couple had been a waste of time.

Plus it ended at 3pm in the afternoon. That is the crass stupidity of Hampshire Farmers Markets who could not organises a piss up in a brewery. Ironic considering Alton was once a centre of brewing excellence due to the quality of its ground water.

The rain eased off. I decided a trip to Alton. I might, if I was lucky, catch the end of the market, but if not, Alton, a small market town, is always worth a visit.

I had to catch a bus, then a train.

As I walked to the bus stop I watched a bus sail past three minutes early, the next bus was three minutes late.

I arrived at Aldershot Station with three minutes to spare to catch the 1420 train to Alton. I asked the ticket seller was that the Alton train pulling in. He said yes. If he had moved any slower he would have fallen asleep. I ran through the tunnel, leapt on the train.

Then I noticed something. The train was not pulling out. Several minutes passed by, then a train pulled into another platform, the platform from which the Alton train normally departed.

Was I on the wrong train? If I jumped off, would the train depart without me?

I risked it. My train was for Ascot, the train that had pulled in was for Guildford. The Alton train had pulled in and gone. The imbecile in the ticket office had put me on the wrong train.

I now had half an hour to wait for the next Alton train. I could forget the Alton Food Festival.

The journey Aldershot to Alton is a pleasant train journey, especially past Farnham. It passes by Alice Holt, a forest. It is possible to alight at Bentley and walk into the forest, but only one train an hour stops at Bentley.

Alton Station is unusual. It is is still 1960s era, or at least pre-Beeching Rail Cuts. It is from where steam trains depart. The start of the Watercress Line.

I had just missed a steam train and it would be about 20 minutes for the next one. I decided not to waste any more of the day, and walk into Alton.

As I left I saw a bus for Winchester. It was tempting but I thought no, but I did ask the driver how often they now departed as they were hourly last year, though I had been told they would be every half an hour. The driver confirmed this was the case and the last bus now departed from Winchester at 7pm, not 6pm as before.

But here is the crass stupidity and an example of how dysfunctional is our public transport system. The bus leaves at the same time the train arrives!

I set off into Alton, but I could smell smoke from a steam train. I returned to the station.

Why is it jerks having the entire platform to stand on stand between me and what I am photographing?

Set off into Alton.

There used to be a lovely wholefood shop in Alton. The man who owned it was elderly and thought it was time to retire. But, he was happy to carry on for a couple more years, and hope in the meantime find a buyer for the business. The stupid landlord would not let him. It was minimum ten years lease or nothing. Yet another shop now sits empty. A good business lost.

I popped in Alton Books. A good selection of Paulo Coelho books, but not what I was looking for, Aleph. I would have loved to browse, but no time.

I caught Brock’s Farm Shop as they were closing. One of the best butcher’s in the country.

I had a very late and excellent lunch at Bottega Dei Sapori, a lovely little Italian coffee shop, delicious mushroom tortellini. The irony of it, I get better Italian food in Alton than in Bassano del Grappa where the food was overpriced and awful. The exception was Ristorante Alla Corte.

Every so often one comes across eating places where the owner take a pride in their food. This was one such place. I had a chat with the owner and to my surprise he is from the north of Italy, north of Venice, but not as far north as Bassano del Grappa.

Their coffee is single origin Bourbon Arabica from El Salvador with Rainforest Alliance Certification. One of the best Arabica coffees I have ever tried was Zapatista coffee from an autonomous region of Mexico.

Apart from tasty main dishes, scrumptious looking cakes. Plus Italian products on sale, including seeds and home made bread.

There are two places to eat in Alton, both are excellent. One is Bottega Dei Sapori, the other is O’Connor’s.

Why do people eat in disgusting fast food outlets when there are decent restaurants serving excellent freshly prepared dishes?

Next door to the Italian coffee shop (it is really a small restaurant) the site of what used to be the bank that belonged to the brother of Jane Austen.

By now gone 5pm and almost everything closed.

Alton is fortunate, it still has a quality butcher and two greengrocer’s.

On my way in I just caught Brock’s Farm Shop open. One of the best butchers in the country.

I also caught one of the greengrocer’s open. They have delicious dates. Expensive but worth it. I also picked up two punnets of English strawberries for a pound!

From Waterstone’s a copy of Aleph. On principle I do not buy from Waterstone’s but this was a former Ottaker’s, so at least some of the staff know something about books. It was a tragedy when Waterstone’s were allowed to acquire Ottaker’s.

I then decided I would take a walk through the water meadows, the source of the River Wey. Last summer the river, here but a stream, had dried up. I was curious, what was its state now?

It was back in flow again. Now about a foot (30 cm) deep and flowing quite fast.

It had been rain on and off all day. Now heavy rain. I was getting soaked. Time to head back.

I passed by O’Connor’s. It was open and I would have liked to have popped in, said hello, but I would have missed the train and was too tired. Once on the train, as it was about to pull out, I noticed a steam train pulling in. But too tired to jump off.

At Aldershot the train pulled in a few minutes past the hour. The bus left on the hour. I would have to wait half an hour for the next bus. Yet another example of our dysfunctional public transport system. Bus and train owned by the same company, Stagecoach.

I never did get to see the Alton Food Festival. If like last few years no great loss. Of the people I talked to, all thought it crass stupidity that it finished at 3pm, half way through the afternoon. I was even asked had it closed early due to the bad weather? To make matters worse, the day was the Women’s Final at Wimbledon.

Maybe there was something worth going to maybe I missed out on a great food festival. I do not think so, not if I go by the Hampshire Farmers Market website. It told me date, location, farmers market and that was it.

The Alton Food Festival, a one-day event, is part of the Hampshire Food Festival. Lots of stalls, plenty of food to taste and buy, cookery demonstrations. At least that is how it once was. July 2006, Sophie Grigson was giving cookery demonstrations and signing copies of her books. It has since gone down hill. The last couple of years not worth attending.

Hosting a food festival is an excellent idea. But it has to be a genuine food festival, an all day event, not a farmers market dressed up as a food festival.

It is time Alton took the initiative and seized back their food festival.

Alton is small market town in Hampshire. Source of the River Wey. It is relatively unspoilt, but in the last few years, national High Street chains are slowly eroding its character. Many old buildings, old coaching inns. Also a strong sense of community, spare land being used as community gardens, lots of local events.

Alton has a strong connection with Jane Austen. It also, surprising for such a small town, has two museums, one housing the finest collections of ceramics outside the V&A in London.

Top Story in The Digital Mission Daily (Sunday 8 July 2012).

Alton Food Festival 2011

July 11, 2011

Alton Food Festival used to be worth visiting, sadly it is now little more than a farmers market.

Alton Food Festival 2009
Alton Food Festival 2010

Why not all day, why no cooking demos in the afternoon?

I caught the last cooking demo. A lady showing how easy it was to make cup cakes. Last year the same lady showed how easy it was to make cup cakes!

One measure of a market, apart from the pleasure of wandering around, is how much you spend. Not a great score there. I spent zilch. It was not that I did not buy anything, sausages and bread from Brock’s Farm Shop and fruit and vegetables from an excellent fruit and vegetable shop, but nothing off the market.

Alton is a pleasant market town to wander around.

Two museums but why closed until Tuesday? Bad timing.

I looked in St Lawrence Church. Not a very attractive church to look at but interesting from a architectural and historical perspective, and it was fantastic to actually find the church open as so many are closed. The church is Norman, with Elizabethan additions. The church was at the centre of the Battle of Alton, a turning point in the English Civil War. Inside the church a quiet corner for prayer where I left a few prayer and meditation cards. Sadly no Visitor’s Book to sign.

I bumped into Stuart Olds who was doing a book signing. We had an interesting chat and I came away with a signed copy of Hope’s Truth.

I went for a walk along the water meadows. The river had dried up leaving patches of mud and stones. As I walked along, little pools of water, then I noticed the water was flowing. This is the source of the River Wey, the water bubbles up through the chalk of the river bed. It flows through Farnham where it is a stream, through Godalming and Guildford where it is a canalized river and on to join the River Thames.

On my way home I popped in to see Peter O’Connor of O’Connor’s Secret Garden. I had bumped in to him on arrival and he told me he had, as last year, given one of the cooking demos, which I was sorry to have missed. He kindly gave me the recipes: Watercress Express and Warm Homemade Chocolate Brownies.

The journey to Alton is a pleasant train journey, or is when there are are trains. Instead a somewhat unplesant bus trip. The return was no better. Welcome to weekend rail works. [see Weekend rail works]

Alton Food Festival 2010

July 12, 2010
Alton Food Festival

Alton Food Festival

Alton is a relatively unspoilt small market town in rural Hampshire. Relatively unspoilt as Clone Town is already starting to make inroads.

Alton Food Festival is an annual event held each summer to celebrate local food and produce. The first was held four years ago in the middle of the World Cup on the day England were kicked out. Four years on, another World Cup, England again kicked out. Some things never change.

Two weekends ago I was at the Farnham Carnival at nearby Farnham on a very hot day. Even hotter at Celebrating Surrey Festival the following day. For the Alton Food Festival it was another sunny and very hot weekend.

The train journey from Farnham on towards Alton is through pleasant rolling countryside. At Bentley a footpath leads off through the fields to Alice Holt Forest.

The line, or at least the train, only goes as far as far as Alton. It used to run to Winchester, but sadly no more. Volunteers have restored what is known as the Watercress Line as far as Alresford, with steam trains running along the route.

Greening Alton (transition town in all but name) had a spin off stall, Alton Local Food Initiative, with the aims of highlighting food miles, encouraging the use and production of local food and encouraging local people to grow their own. One of their initiatives has been to exploit unused land. On my way home I saw a little garden they had developed at Alton Station. They also have flower beds in the town in which herbs are grown, and yes, you can pick them. On their stall they had some excellent tortilla made with produce from their gardens.

On my way down I had an idea which they and others may wish to take up. Some people have no garden or a garden which is too small for their growing needs, others a garden which is underused. Bring the two together and share the produce.

I have mixed feelings about transition towns. A force for good or a distraction to make the middle classes feel good? Far too prescriptive. An implicit assumption, naive in the extreme, that local councils are a force for good when in reality they are likely to be in the pocket of developers and big business. Aldershot and Farnborough have been trashed by the Rotten Borough of Rushmoor at the behest of big business and developers, but then it could be argued nether towns are transition towns.

A great idea was local chefs giving cooking demonstrations. You see how it is done, see how they perform, and get to taste what they produce.

Apart from the cooking demonstrations and a few craft stalls, I could not see how the festival differed from a farmers market.

Highlight of the day was a cooking demonstration by Peter O’Connor of O’Connor’s Secret Garden Bistro. An enthusiast in his work and he made it all look so easy. And it tasted good too. Bantry Bay Beef to be served with colcannon potatoes, followed by Dingle Bay Bananas for desert. Ice cream from Farmer Gosden’s Dairy was used to accompany the banana desert. Lovely creamy ice cream from a local herd of Jersey Cows. Earlier in the day Peter demonstrated Limerick Pork Medallions and Bantry Bay Mussels.

I had chat with Peter O’Connor afterwards. He said he walked through the market earlier and that decided what he would cook, using local produce from the stalls. I asked if I could have the recipes for what he had cooked, he said yes, come along to the Secret Garden, which I said I would do later.

Talking to Farmer Gosden’s Dairy (whose excellent ice cream Peter O’Connor used to accompany his banana desert) I learnt that Loseley ice cream comes from Wales, not, as most people including myself are led to believe, from Loseley Park. This would explain why having visited Loseley Park two weeks ago for the Celebrating Surrey Festival I had no recollection of either cows or dairy!

It was a very hot day, so I had a wander to the water meadows. Then along to the Secret Garden. My timing could not have been better. I arrived just as Peter and his staff arrived. I had often walked past the Secret Garden, so it was a pleasure to be invited in, and what a pleasure it was.

A lovely restaurant, lovely atmosphere, lovely staff. Peter then showed me his garden out the back, all laid out with table and chairs. I only wished I could have stayed as it was a lovely balmy night, could not have been better for sitting out. But I was very tired and would have ended up under the table had I stayed.

I suggested for his garden he grew plants and varieties that were endangered and suggested Real Seeds as a source of seeds. Or go down to Seedy Sunday Brighton in the spring for their annual seed swap.

As luck would have it, I arrived at the station, just as a steam train was pulling out.

There was a free concert in the town’s gardens that evening, but I did not stay. I could though hear their rehearsals whilst I was in the water meadows.

Alton Food Festival is an annual event held in July, part of the Hampshire Food Festival, a month long county-wide event held each summer to celebrate Hampshire Fare.

Also see

Alton Food Festival 2009

Celebrating Surrey Festival 2010

Farnham Carnival

Ice cream: dairy farmers scoop a profit

Dingle Bay Bananas

July 12, 2010
Dingle Bay Bananas

Dingle Bay Bananas


– bananas
– brown sugar
– liquor (Malibu or Cointreau)
– butter
– cream or ice cream
– fresh strawberries or raspberries


Slice bananas and cook in a hot pan in butter. Use under-ripe bananas as ripe bananas will turn to mush. Sprinkle on a little brown sugar to caramelize.

Flame with liquor to seal in flavour.

Serve with cream or ice cream. Add a few fresh strawberries or raspberries if in season.

Thanks to Peter O’Connor of O’Connor’s Secret Garden Bistro for the dish which he demonstrated at Alton Food Festival.

Colcannon potatoes

July 12, 2010
Colcannon potatoes

Colcannon potatoes


– part boiled potatoes
– fresh spring greens
– scallion (large spring onion)
– butter


Sliced boiled potatoes (these are more than par boiled but not fully cooked that they are soft), sliced fresh spring greens (must be green not white), sliced scallion, are added to a hot pan and cooked in butter.

Serve as the vegetable dish. Ideal to go with Bantry Bay Beef.

Thanks to Peter O’Connor of O’Connor’s Secret Garden Bistro for the dish which he demonstrated at the Alton Food Festival.

Bantry Bay Beef

July 12, 2010
Bantry Bay Beef

Bantry Bay Beef


– 8oz steak
– couple of mushrooms
– sprinkling of rock salt and black pepper
– shot of whiskey or brandy
– medium onion
– sprig of parsley or watercress
– tomatoes
– cream
– wine


Slice the steak and mushrooms and add to a hot pan to which you have added a drop of olive oil. Sprinkle on rock salt and black pepper for seasoning.

Cook until steak is medium rare or to taste.

Flame with a shot of whiskey or brandy. This helps to seal in the flavour.

Mix wine and about a quarter of a small pot of double cream. Add to the hot pan.

Cook until cream has started to thicken.

Serve with a sprig of parsley or watercress, tomatoes and colcannon potatoes.

Many thanks to Peter O’Connor of O’Connor’s Secret Garden Bistro for this dish which he demonstrated at the Alton Food Festival.

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